14 May 2011

Kenya: Nation's Dilemma Over Kosovo Ties

Nairobi — Kenya finds itself in the middle of a diplomatic tussle between two East European neighbours - Kosovo and Russia.

Like in the case of China and Taiwan, the Kenya government is being called upon to choose to either strengthen ties with Russia or recognise Kosovo and antagonise the former.

On May 4, 2011, a Kosovo national, Mr James Berisha of Flying for Kosovo Group, arrived in Nairobi to present a request to the Kenya government to recognise the nation's independence and, if possible, establish diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Kosovo declared its independence on February 17, 2008, but has yet to get formal recognition by the United Nations.

Among the UN Security Council members, only the US, France and the UK have recognised Kosovo as an independent state.

The Balkan state accuses Moscow of openly carrying out a campaign to block it from getting a seat at the UN.

Kenya, like several other countries around the world, is yet to recognise Kosovo as an independent state.

Tanzania has openly announced that it will not do so for fear of jeopardising relations with Moscow.

On the other hand, Russia with whom Kenya has flourishing diplomatic relations, has opposed Kosovo's claim to statehood.

The Russian embassy in Nairobi confirmed as much, when reached by the Sunday Nation over Kosovo's status.

"Our position is that we do not recognise Kosovo as an independent state and we are not going to do so," embassy spokesman Igor Lemansky said.

Officials at Kenya's ministry of Foreign Affairs who did not want to be identified discussing bilateral issues, said the Kosovo matter was a delicate one for the government.

As many would appreciate, the Kibaki administration has been breaking barriers as it looks eastward for development.

In November 2010, Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Nairobi, the first highest ranking Russia diplomatic official to do so and stated it was never too late to strengthen ties with Nairobi.

Visiting minister

The minister met President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and held talks with acting Foreign minister Prof George Saitoti and Trade minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere.

And for such a flourishing friendship, Kenya could be reluctant to jeopardise its strong relationship with Russia.

The Foreign ministry had not officially responded to our queries by press time, pointing to the difficulty the government has in its decision to deal with the matter of Kosovo.

Kosovo's independence was confirmed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) two years ago after neighbouring Serbia contested the same.

"Even ICJ agrees with our independence because it ruled that the people of Kosovo have the right to self-determination," Mr Berisha, the Balkan nation's emissary told the Sunday Nation.

Other neighbours namely, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Slovenia acknowledge Kosovo's independence.

Of the 192 countries that are members of the UN, 75 have so far recognised Kosovo's independence.

They include the 22 EU members, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, seven in Central and South America and 12 African nations, among others in Asia and Europe.

"Obviously Kenya is not one of the nations that have recognised Kosovo's independence.

"That is why we are trying to raise awareness through this campaign, to tell you and your government that we would love to be part of the family which is the planet.

"We don't want to be non-existent before Kenya," said Mr Berisha who has so far been to 90 countries around the world with the same message.

Russia contests Kosovo's independence for geopolitical reasons, that the US has come half the world away to establish a military base in Kosovo.

The East European powerhouse is also concerned of EU's fast spreading influence across the continent after Slovenia and others joined the union.

"They want to impose their communist system in this part of the world. As Kosovo, we don't want their system anymore. We want to live free, happy and our lives to be normal," said Mr Berisha.

According to Ambassador Ochieng' Adala, a career diplomat who retired in 1993 after 30 years in the Kenyan diplomatic service, Russia's hard-line position may be predicated upon geopolitics of the Balkan states.

"But may be Russia has other national interests to safeguard and one would not be surprised if Russia foregoes its opposition to Kosovo's membership in the UN in exchange for something else," he noted.First to recognise

While Russia was the first to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway republics of Georgia when they declared their independence, Kosovo is wondering why it has taken long for Moscow to acknowledge it.

In the meantime, Russia and Kosovo are each waiting with bated breath the Kibaki administration's verdict. Mr Adala opined that the position of Russia is crucial to UN's formal recognition of Kosovo.

"Procedures for admission of new members to the United Nations starts with affirmative vote of at least nine members of the United Nations Security Council," said Mr Adala.

However, he was emphatic that Kenya should not allow itself to be dragged into the controversy between Russia and its former allies in Europe.

The loud silence from the relevant government department charged with Foreign Affairs however speaks volumes of the difficulty of choosing between Kosovo and Russia.

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